Nothing has helped me get back into the swing of things more, after losing my sweetheart, than getting up on stage and giving life to a delightful old goofy character named Wilmer in a play called “Funny Little Thing.”
Wilmer, like I have been in real life, is crazy about his wife, Paula, and she feels the same about him as my Nancy loved me – in spite of the little “things” that come along in a marriage, the irrelevant minutia that Wilmer and Paula, like Nancy and I did, zip by with healthy “Don’t sweat the small stuff” attitudes.
What a fun role and it was just what I needed to discover if I could ever, again, focus my attention, for any reasonable length of time, on something other than the nagging emotional pain that for so long was caught up in my heart and soul like a cat entangled in a sack full of yarn. When your blood runs cold with such a high level of grief your ability to listen and empathize with others suffers as they drift in and out of your attention span like a lecture on nuclear physics delivered in a dead language.
But one can’t remain hidden inside one’s self if one crawls inside a character in a play because there are other characters with whom that character must engage and all the characters, together, have to take words and actions off a page and give breath to it on stage. And it wasn’t too long into the process that I realized I had to crash out of myself heart first to keep up with the talented *actors with whom I was cast. We had a blast. Through George Ye’s relaxed and collaborative style of directing we made playwright Quinn Sosna-Spear’s cute “Funny Little Thing” stand up and sing with humor and joy.
Quinn, a teenager, has an incredibly wonderful way with words and a big part of what sold me on doing a play after having not acted in a while was I love playing scenes born in young people’s minds. In my day to day work, I do it all the time. And this gifted young woman will entertain audiences for a long long time if she so chooses. I see her about to join other outstanding playwrights who got there start in San Diego, courtesy of Playwrights Project: Josefina Lopez, a playwright and screenwriter of “Real Women Have Curves” fame; Annie Weisman and Karen Hartman whose world premieres of their plays, “Be Aggressive” and “Alice’s Wild Ride”, were staged at La Jolla Playhouse; Jim Knable, whose plays have run throughout the country.
Playwrights Project is well known here and beyond for inspiring and developing young writers and just doing something with them was, in and of itself, a selling point as far as getting me to rise out of my deep funk and create a little magic. I’ve had the honor of being around this august organization as an actor and a board member pretty much since it hit town 25 years ago.
What a gift to youth Playwrights Project has been, offering them, among a number of programs, an opportunity to enter a play in its annual California Young Playwrights Contest and if they win they get to see their scripts come alive on stage honed by the talents of professional actors and directors. At theaters like Cassius Carter Centre Stage at the Old Globe and the Lyceum in the heart of downtown.
The contest is going on right now with a deadline for submissions set for June 1, 2010. I could sure see a kid from OB with all they get to see daily scripting something exciting and bold, something steeped in poignancy and soul.
Anyway, the sweet sounds of laughter and applause I heard while performing in “Funny Little Thing” just a little while ago will ring in my heart forever. Life “don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” and I’ll forever be indebted to Playwrights Project for its role in launching me back into the swing of things.
*Reed Willard (an OBcean), Wendy Wadell, Katherine Harroff and June Gottlieb. Look for their names whenever you’re looking for an evening of theater and sit back and enjoy yourself. They’ll give you a new lease on life.